Vinegar Tom’s Music Connects Distant Times and People

by Kyle Van Frank

The collaborative spirit of theatre is alive this semester in the Marian Gallaway Theater. UA Theatre and Dance’s head of Directing and Director of Vinegar Tom Annie G. Levy has teamed up with 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant-recipient composer Erato Kremmyda to help the cast of Vinegar Tom devise music for the production. Vinegar Tom, running February 13-18, was written by Caryl Churchill in 1976 and chronicles storylines in both the present day and 17th century. Upon discovering the power of music in storytelling during the original production, Churchill began devising new music with the actors. The music is intended to help deliver the storyline of the show’s present-day portion, through each production’s unique composition.

UA Theatre and Dance’s upcoming production is no exception to this form of theatre building. Levy and Kremmyda first met in 2013 working on a project in Brooklyn, NY. The two further collaborated in 2015 in residency in Greece. Often attracted to spectacle in plays, Levy says that music makes “the antennae go up and attract the audience.” Using song to communicate delivers the story in a new and exciting manner. And the music in this production is especially exciting because it has been created by the individual cast members, under the guidance of Kremmyda.

When filling out forms in preparation for the rehearsal process, actors selected genres of music they most deeply connected to. From there, Levy and Kremmyda paired the actors with the text they felt most directly meshed with the actor’s genre, or found a way to most naturally use the assigned text to meld into the genre needed at the time. Sophomore Anne Dillon Loflin said, “This experience has been extra special because it is my first time ever collaborating and performing music I’ve written.” Kremmyda has provided ample oversight and guidance for the singers and has helped to construct the individual voices of each singer’s piece. Loflin also said, “I have learned so much from being advised and inspired by the ideas and expertise of everyone involved in the process. Each song was written by a specific one of the singers, yet the collaboration makes it personal to all of us.”

The personalization of the music helps to tell a story that is obtainable and intimate. Having a piece that is fully their own helps the actors connect more deeply and take the audience on the journey Churchill so eloquently built. In discussing the show’s purpose, Levy expanded on why she feels this story needs to be told today. Levy says, “I did my MFA thesis on Caryl Churchill and have always felt that she is one of our most vital living playwrights, not only because of what she takes on through her plays (the content), but also the way she tells these stories (the structure). My first exposure to Churchill happened when I was an undergraduate and getting to know her work completely changed what I thought theatre could be and do. I wanted to bring Churchill’s work to the department here so that this experience could be replicated.” She goes on to say, “Vinegar Tom attempts to speak truth to power and in doing so, taking some of that lost power back. Women in 2018 are doing the same thing.”

Vinegar Tom is a piece that invites the audience into an intimate look at our world, our actions and our people. Levy’s production has built a world that is accessible to the audience. From start to finish, audiences will be taken on a journey through the play and gain access to the transcendent message of Churchill’s writing. The production is an unforgettable experience, something Levy attributes greatly to the music. The use of music has built the show’s individuality and compelling delivery. Director Annie G. Levy says it best, stating, “Music forces us to listen in a different way– the melody, the repetition, the rhythm– all invite a different level of attention.”

 

Vinegar Tom runs February 13-18 in the Marian Gallaway Theater. For tickets, visit UA.tix.com or call 205.348.3400. The UA Theatre and Dance box office is located in Rowand-Johnson Hall on The University of Alabama campus and is open from 12-5pm Monday-Friday.